The unthinkable happened this weekend. Spurred on by 70-degree temperatures and a nagging, insufferable father, my 15-year-old son, Brian, left the comfort of his TV, computer, and iPhone and went on a hike with me. I have alerted the networks. Geraldo is on his way.
Our goal — beautiful Peavine Falls in Oak Mountain State Park in Jefferson County, Alabama, just 15 minutes south of where we live in Hoover. Peavine Falls is seasonal. During the dry season, there is no falls. But in winter and spring, it’s spectacular — well worth hours spent with a moody teenager who thinks the outdoors is a place you’re sent for breaking the law.
We set out after lunch, collected a trail map at the park entrance, and proceeded to the trail head of the Green Trail. This is the most direct hiking route. The map says it’s 2 miles. Unfortunately, most of the trail goes up, gaining about 400 feet of elevation on the way, which translates into two loathsome consequences for Brian. First, this is gonna involve exercise. Second, it’s gonna take more time than if we just parachuted from a plane.
About 5 minutes into our hike, at which point Brian thought we should have arrived already, Brian starts reading the checklist of supplies that the Parks Department says all hikers should carry before they start out — things like food, a flashlight, a whistle in case you chance upon a pick-up basketball game and someone commits a foul, first-aid kit, and, most importantly, water. We have none of these. I was so excited at the prospect of actually showing Brian trees and rocks that I forgot to bring anything except a cellphone. Oh well — if everything goes according to plan, we should complete the hike in 3 hours, before we lose consciousness due to dehydration.
Along the way, we pause about every 15 minutes so Brian can adjust to this brave new world. I take the opportunity to point out oft-ignored details of the natural world that gain new prominence in the winter deciduous forest. One is a native hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) that tends to grow in thickets atop the ridge-tops. It boasts the most beautiful exfoliating winter bark — red, gold, green, and silver. Alabama is home to more than 30 different hawthorn species. Without seeing a leaf, I can’t identify this one, but it should be grown in gardens.
Brian was unimpressed.
I Like Lichens
So then I turned to lichens that encrusted nearby rocks. I love lichens. What appears to be a single organism is actually a combination of 2 or 3 life forms that work together for mutual benefit. The usual partners are a fungus and blue-green alga. The fungus benefits the alga by anchoring it to a rock, helping it to store water, and breaking down the rock into useful minerals. The blue-green alga benefits the fungus by manufacturing food from sunlight, which the fungus can’t do because it lacks chlorophyll. Sometimes a third partner, cyanobacteria, helps with photosynthesis. The type of lichen shown here is called “foliose,” because it looks leafy. They’re edible for humans and wildlife (provided you’re really hungry). Plus, their presence indicates good air quality, as they don’t take kindly to air pollution.
“Lichens are lame,” said Brian.
We came to a rock-face slathered in green moss and dotted with rosettes of little wildflowers that resembled gray-green snowflakes. Water dripping down the rock made this little colony possible. “Isn’t this cool?” I asked Brian.
“You are so out of it,” he replied.
Anyone Hear A Banjo?
After a 1-1/2 hour’s walk, we heard voices in the distance. The falls must be near. We crossed over to the White Trail and headed down. After 10 minutes, we came upon the most horrific sight we had ever seen.
There was a parking lot there filled with cars, just a 5-minute’s walk from the falls. We could have driven there like all the other slackers and saved my son from his deadly exposure to fresh air and sunshine.
Fortunately, the falls were running big-time. Photo op! Photo op! Brian made his way through a crowd of redneck kids that looked like they’d just walked off the set of “Deliverance” and then posed by the rushing water. “Don’t drink it,” I warned him. “I can’t carry you back to the car.”
“Hey, look!” yelled a Deliverance kid. “I just found me a dead raccoon.” That was our sign. Time to go home. That dead raccoon probably had rabies, I told him. “Rabies!” he exclaimed. “You mean it’s a mama?”
It’s nice and warm and sunny today. What a great day for another hike with my son. It’ll never happen though — until maybe a girl asks him.
In which case, Dad will be there with his whistle.